Five years ago when PK Muralidharan Raja was a key office-bearer of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF), he strongly opposed the pro circuit, saying “Indian players are mentally not mature enough to withstand the challenges of the circuit”. “Our boxers prefer to take the amateur path because it’s more glorious in terms of job security and cash incentives from the government,” he had said.
Five years down the line, the former army officer, who was IABF secretary-general from 2004 to 2012 has a different view and sees a business opportunity in boxing. He has floated the Indian Boxing Council (IBC) and become its president. IBC held its first event at Delhi’s Sirifort complex on Saturday. The IBC president claimed that the response was overwhelming from across the nation, adding that many youngsters had shown interest in the pro circuit. “The event would grow in the coming days,” he told HT.
When reminded that as an official of the IABF, he didn’t support World Series of Boxing (WSB), a professional circuit that allows boxers to remain eligible for Olympics as well, Raja was diplomatic. “(I) have never opposed it, but had plans to promote it one day.”
Even as the former IABF secretary-general was optimistic about the IBC-organised pro event gaining ground in the coming days, Olympian Akhil Kumar had a guarded approach. “Players who want to enter the pro circuit should thoroughly study the rules and regulations and then think of stepping into the ring,” said the Melbourne Commonwealth Games bantamweight champion. Akhil had participated in the WSB, but isn’t enthusiastic about becoming a pro. “Right now, I am going through rehabilitation,” was all he said.
None of the upcoming boxers or those preparing for the Rio qualification mark showed enthusiasm for the pro event, a fact which Raja didn’t deny. According to a national-level coach, pro boxing is a good platform for boxers who haven’t had much success in the amateur circuit, or those who believe that Olympics and Asian Games are beyond their reach. “It’s a good chance for those on the fringes to make some money,” he said.
In hindsight, Beijing bronze-medallist Vijender Singh was reluctant to compete in the WSB. However, he opted to go pro when he thought the time was right. A coach associated with the national camp said, boxers compete in WSB because it offers an Olympics quota. He added: “The amount of money in the WSB is not very attractive. Thus many are reluctant to compete.”
In Europe and USA, pro events are quite popular. But in India the scenario is completely different. Almost all the top players aim for a good working opportunity under the sports quota in various government departments as well as public sector. It’s sort of mandatory for all players to represent their respective departments in domestic competitions, which are governed by amateur rules. If the event is sanctioned by the world governing body, says a international boxer, it’s easier for the player to make a decision. “Otherwise it’s difficult because of the complex situation,” the player added.
Another former international boxer says, a nation where boxing is still confined to minuscule percentage of the middle class, many of them are only focused on getting a decent job under the sports quota, making transition to pro from amateur a challenging task. He added: “Stable job is better than earning quick bucks on the pro circuit.”